born in 1882 on East 47th Street in Manhattan
November 6th, 1928, New Yorks Polyclinic Hospital
Known by many names A. R., Mr. Big, The Fixer, The Big Bankroll, The Man
Uptown, and The Brain - Arnold Rothstein seemed more myth than man. He was the
inspiration for Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby, and Nathan Detroit
in Guys and Dolls. He was rumored to be the mastermind of the Black
Sox scandal, the fixing of the 1919 World Series. Arnold Rothstein was
gambling, and Arnold Rothstein was money. He was Mr. Broadway and had his own
booth at Lindys restaurant in Manhattan where he held court.
The Big Bank Roll, biography of Rothstein: "The cigar salesman made a
good living. He lived frugally, did not dissipate. Each week the roll in his
pocket grew a little thicker. He knew he could never attain his ultimate aim by
simple economies, but these could start him on his way. He didnt like
long range projects. He was essentially a short-term, quick-turnover man."
Rothstein pursued a fixed course. He worked at selling cigars
until he accumulated $2,000. He decided that this was sufficient to base an
entry into gambling as a profession. He quit his salesmans job. He would
never again work for anyone else. All the rest of his life, no matter what else
he might be, he would always be a professional gambler.
Big Tim Sullivans backing, in 1902 Rothstein began working on
his own. He booked bets on baseball games, elections, horse races and
prizefights. In addition, he gambled on his own shooting craps, playing
pool and participating in poker games. Rothstein had a simple philosophy,
Look out for Number One. If you dont, no one else will. If a man is
dumb, someone is going to get the best of him, so why not you? If you
dont, youre as dumb as he is.
Rothstein had promised
his new wife Carolyn that after he made a lot of money he would retire from
being a gambler. Rothstein was comfortable discussing his philosophy of
gambling with his wife, but never the actual mechanics, and certainly not the
people he interacted with. At Saratoga he pawned all of the expensive jewelry
he had given Carolyn to obtain cash. This was more lucrative than borrowing the
money at a higher interest rate. By the end of the honeymoon, which
coincidentally coincided with the end of race season at Saratoga, Rothstein had
won $12,000 and got Carolyns jewelry out of hock.
New York, Rothstein decided to open his own gambling house. He rented two
brownstones on West 46th Street and he and Carolyn took up residence in one,
while the other was outfitted with roulette wheels, faro and poker tables.
Rothstein then went to Big Tim Sullivan to discuss
protection. Sullivan, an Irishman who believed in marriage and
large families, was delighted that his protégé had wed. His
wedding gift to Rothstein was protection.
By 1914 Rothstein was already
on his way to becoming the go-to-guy for lay-off betting in the bookmaking
business. Since its early years, America has had a love affair with horse
racing and betting on horse races. As placing wagers on the sport became
more popular, especially in the countrys larger cities, the art of
bookmaking, also known then as pool operating, became popular too. It was not
until Rothstein came along to organize the various bookmakers that it became a
huge money making venture. By the mid-teens Rothsteins ever-growing
bankroll allowed him to set the terms for what became known as the lay-off bet.
This is the process of evening out a bookies slate when one horse has so
much money riding on it that the results can break the bookies bank. He
simply bets the other way with someone with enough money to handle the
bet and the two split the winning percentage from the bets
Rothstein was soon known from coast to coast as the man who
could handle any lay-off bet. Assembling a loyal group of men who worked around
the clock for their master, Rothsteins ability to take care of this type
of betting would last until his death.
Meanwhile, as the country moved
through the 1910s, Rothsteins gambling contemporaries in New York fell by
the wayside. Having one of the few reputable gambling houses in the city
Rothstein decided to close up shop because it had become too well known. In
1916 he opened a new casino in Hewlett, Long Island where the cost of
protection was not nearly as high as in Manhattan. Both the
building and the land the gambling house occupied were owned by a state senator
who was recognized as a major political figure in the area. The casino was
lavishly furnished and provided the gamblers, who arrived by invitation only,
with the best in food and drink. All of the casinos employees were
required to dress in appropriate eveningwear.
Rothstein took advantage
of what he termed snob appeal for his gambling den. People
like to think theyre better than other people, Rothstein once told
Damon Runyon. As long as theyre willing to pay to prove it,
Im willing to let them. For three years he allowed them to
pay, to the tune of $500,000 in profits, before he closed the club
in 1919 after the local authorities became greedy.
|Three events took place in Rothsteins life that became
legendary and created a reputation for the gambler that certainly preceded him
and made him the talk of New York.
first incident occurred in 1917. August Belmont owned a horse named Hourless,
whose trainer, Sam Hildreth, was considered one of the best in the country.
During the 1917 racing season Hourless lost in a three-horse race to that
years Kentucky Derby winner, Omar Khayyam. Hildreth knew he had been
outsmarted by Hourless rider, a dishonest jockey who dropped his whip
during the race. When the New York season was over an enterprising track owner
agreed to put up a purse for a grudge match between the two horses. On October
17, the day before the race, Rothstein decided to bet $240,000 on Hourless, but
could not find anyone willing to handle a wager that large. Later that day,
Rothstein received a telephone call and was informed whatever bet he was
willing to place there was a man who would accept it no limit.
Rothstein knew immediately that there must be a fix. He called Hildreth
and voiced his concern regarding the sudden change of heart of the bookmakers
to take his bet. If there was going to be a sucker in this race, it was not
going to be Arnold Rothstein. At the last minute Hildreth changed jockeys and
Hourless won convincingly. Rothstein pocketed a cool $300,000.
was the largest Rothstein had won up until this time and he would exceed it
twice in 1921. The first bet occurred on July 4. Independence Day was the
second of the three big racing days that took place at the New York horse
racing tracks (the other two being Memorial Day and Labor Day). On this holiday
Rothstein was betting on his own horse, Sidereal.
entrance in the days third race was a last minute decision by Rothstein.
In fact, the horse was stabled at Belmont Park and the race was being run at
Aqueduct. Rothstein sent Carolyn to fetch the horse while he maneuvered around
the busy track drumming up business and, at the same time, trying to be as
inconspicuous as possible so not to tip his hand. Rothstein
borrowed as many as forty trackmen to do his bidding in placing
bets on Sidereal. By the time the horse arrived at the track the paddock judge
told the trainer he had beaten the deadline by a mere six seconds. Sidereal won
the race and Rothstein earned the incredible amount of $850,000.
later, on August 20, Rothstein won $500,000 by betting on another of his
horses, Sporting Blood, in the Travers Stakes. Rothstein had received some
quality information about problems the favored horse was experiencing. He was
quick to take advantage of the information for which he always rewarded
the provider well.
Arnold Rothsteins fixing of the
1919 World Series (Baseball) is the American underworlds most popular
myth. The reality is, however, different. Rothsteins name, his
reputation, and his reputed wealth were all used to influence the crooked
baseball players. But Rothstein, knowing this, kept apart from the actual fix.
He just let it happen.
| Last Hours of Mr.
was the message recorded at 10:53 p.m. on Sunday, November 4, 1928 by a desk
sergeant in Manhattans West 47th Street station. By midnight, the
information had been updated to show that Arnold Rothstein, 46 years old of 912
Fifth Avenue had been shot in the abdomen and found near the employees
entrance of the Park Central Hotel.
Earlier that evening, Rothstein
arrived at Lindys restaurant on Seventh Avenue and went to his private
booth. Lindys was Rothsteins office. He kept a regular schedule
there and several men were already waiting to see him when he walked in that
night. One of the men, Jimmy Meehan, ran the Park City Club, one of the
citys biggest gambling dens during the 1920s. Meehan operated the plush
club with a bankroll supplied by Rothstein.
About 10:15, Rothstein
received a telephone call. After a short conversation he hung up and motioned
for Meehan to walk outside with him. McManus wants to see me at the Park
Central, Rothstein said. He then pulled a gun out of his pocket and
handed it to Meehan saying, Keep this for me, I will be right back.
Meehan then watched Rothstein walk up Seventh Avenue.
The man who had
requested Rothsteins presence at the hotel was George McManus. A
bookmaker and gambler, McManus was well connected in the city with one brother
serving on the police force and another serving as a priest. Several weeks
earlier, McManus had hosted a high-stakes poker game in which Rothstein had
participated. The game began on September 8th and continued into the morning of
September 10th. Other players participating in the game were West Coast gambler
Nate Raymond, Alvin Titanic Thompson, and Joe Bernstein. By the end
of the marathon card game, Rothstein was a big loser. He owed Raymond $219,000,
Bernstein $73,000, and Thompson $30,000. When Rothstein walked out, without so
much as signing an IOU, a couple of the players became irritated. McManus
assured the pair, Thats A. R. Hell, hes good for it.
Hell be calling you in a couple of days.
A week passed and
Rothstein had still not made good. Rumors began to circulate that the game was
crooked. Rothstein confided to Nicky Arnstein, who by now was out of prison and
back in New York, A couple of people told me that the game was
rigged. Arnsteins advice to Rothstein was to pay the players off,
no point to your advertising you were a sucker.
held off paying his debt though, hoping to make the gamblers sweat and maybe
take a lesser payoff. The players however were beginning to pressure McManus
since he was the host and had promised them that Rothstein would make good.
McManus sought help from his friend Jimmy Hines of Tammany Hall. Hines, who was
also a friend of Rothstein, began to pressure him to clear up the matter.
As the weeks passed, the pressure began to get to McManus who began
drinking and threatened Rothstein for not making good on the debts. On Sunday
night November 4, McManus called Rothstein from room 349 in the Park Central
Hotel where he was registered as George Richards. He requested that Rothstein
come over right away.
The conversation and events that took place after
Rothstein arrived are still a mystery. Shortly after Rothstein entered room
349, he was shot once in the lower abdomen. The revolver was then tossed out
the window where it bounced off the hood of a parked taxi and landed in the
street. Employees later found Rothstein walking down the service stairs,
holding his stomach and asking for a cab to take him home.
Monday afternoon, his wife Carolyn was permitted to see him. He requested to go
home and told her, Dont go away. I dont want to be alone. I
cant stand being alone. As he tried to raise himself he fell back
and into unconsciousness. Rothstein would not regain consciousness and died the
following morning at approximately 10:20, Election Day, November 6th, 1928.
Rothstein had bet heavily on the election that year. Had he lived, he
would have collected $570,000. His death negated the wagers. In the Jewish
tradition, Rothstein was buried the following day in Union Field Cemetery in
Queens. Inside the closed casket he was dressed in a white skullcap with a
purple-striped prayer shawl over a muslin shroud.